In the late 00’s, the Florida State brass were in an extremely unenviable spot. Bobby Bowden was the architect of the Florida State program, a true statesman, the worlds nicest guy and an accomplished football coach. His program, however, had gone extremely stale. The Seminoles were an average team in Bobby Bowden’s last four years, going 16-16 in ACC play. Mediocrity did not sit well with the powers that be in Tallahassee. They had grown accustomed to greatness. Rightfully so. FSU joined the ACC in 1992 and proceeded to win the conference title 11 of the next 12 years. In that span Bowden’s teams won two national titles and played for another three. Along with the Nebraska Cornhuskers, Florida State was the gold standard of that era. As a lousy 2009 season came to a close, a decision had to be made. FSU pulled the trigger, pushing out Bobby Bowden and promoting offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher. A transition like that can be tricky, but the Noles have shined ever since. Fisher’s teams haven’t won less than nine games, with a total record of 68-14 over seven seasons. Florida State has notched three ACC titles, a national title and a playoff berth in 2014. Jimbo Fisher’s program is once again a symbol of greatness in the east, and my pick to win the ACC in 2016.
This year’s Florida State team is absolutely loaded in a variety of areas. First, there is no shortage of ridiculous athletes on the defensive side of the ball. It starts with defensive end DeMarcus Walker, who compiled 10.5 sacks last fall. Safety Derwin James is just a sophomore, but had 91 tackles in just eight starts and was a freshman All American. Up and down their roster you will find long, fast, and athletic defenders. However, this group must improve in a couple of areas. Shockingly, FSU was 13th in the ACC in turnovers produced and 7th in sacks. Those numbers should go way up, and if they do this will be a special group. Offensively the Noles return everyone from a year ago, but must make strides as well. I look for this running game to be extremely stout. FSU returns their entire offensive line and all-world RB Dalvin Cook. Cook is like something you used to see in a video game. His speed, agility and explosiveness make your head spin. He averaged nearly 7.5 yards per carry and amassed nearly 2000 yards in 2015. Overall FSU returns their top four rushers, and top six receivers. There is only one major problem in Tallahassee. Unfortunately, that question is under center. Sean Maguire returns, but broke his foot in team workouts. Redshirt Freshman Deondre Francois is poised to start the opener against Ole Miss. Coaches rave over Francois’ athleticism, and he was probably going to start anyway, but this is a hell of a way to throw a youngster to the fire. If Fisher is wise, and I believe he is, he will lean on that offensive line and super stud Dalvin Cook. I’m picking Florida State to win this league but I think it’s a bit of a stretch. I’m counting on the defense to be more productive and the offense to lean on that outstanding offensive line. Thus, I make this pick with little conviction…..
Deshaun Watson is one of the best, most dynamic, quarterbacks in the country. Anybody who watched the National Title game could plainly see that. Watson had over 400 yards passing with four TD’s and 73 rushing yards. He was fantastic. He plays on a team full of super athletic players at every position. Dabo Swinney has done an absolutely fantastic job of turning Clemson from an underachiever to a top of the heap, premier program. This years squad has a lot to replace from last years runner-up. Clemson loses five of their top six tacklers including Kevin Dodd and Shaq Lawson. Both of those dudes had over 12 sacks a year ago. That’s a tall order. But, big-time programs are often forced to replace big-time players. That is how it works. I still expect Clemson to be fantastic. I had a very difficult time selecting Florida State to win this conference. The raw athleticism, to go along with Deshaun Watson and the culture Dabo has put together make it tough. But that game is in Tallahassee. I have to give the edge to the Noles based upon the location and Dalvin Cook and that running game.
The ACC is an ever-improving conference. The emergence of Larry Fedora’s North Carolina program, along with the hiring of Mark Richt at Miami, and Pat Narduzzi at Pitt, make this league deeper and downright ferocious. This isn’t your older brother’s ACC. This league is on the rise. That said, it is in no way up for grabs. Clemson and Florida State are playing chess while the rest are playing checkers. There are no challengers to those 2. October 29th in Tallahassee will be a special game. The two very best teams in the ACC will square off to ultimately determine the conference title. This contest is an absolute coin toss. I had to make a choice. I don’t feel particularly confident in choosing the Noles. Clemson and Florida State are both great teams and 100% legit national title contenders. Until that night in October these programs are on a collision course, a date with destiny. Everything that happens between now and then will point to that night. Both program’s entire season will hinge on the outcome. It is what makes college football so great.